The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is a novel about Arnold Spirit (Junior), a boy from the Spokane Indian Reservation who decides to attend high school outside the reservation in order to have a better future. During that first year at Reardan High School, Arnold has to find his place at his all-white school, cope with his best friend Rowdy and most of his tribe disowning him, and endure the deaths of his grandmother, his father’s best friend, and his sister. Alexie touches upon issues of identity, otherness, alcoholism, death, and poverty in order to stay true to his characters and the cultures within the story. Through the identification of the role of the self, identity, and social behavior within the book, the reader can understand Arnold’s story to a greater depth.
Self and Identity Topics in the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
In the story, Arnold’s perception of himself changes and is essential to understanding his evolution as a character. According to Matsumoto and Juang (2013) self-construals or self-concepts are “the ideas or images that one has about oneself and how and why one behaves” (p.343). An independent self-construal sees the self as “a bounded entity, clearly separated from relevant others” and with a focus on the individual’s qualities (Matsumoto & Juang, 2013, p. 345). Meanwhile, the interdependent self-concept is “unbounded, flexible, and contingent on context” and with an emphasis on relationships (Matsumoto & Juang, 2013, p. 346). In the novel, we can see the coexistence of the self-construals in Arnold. In the beginning Arnold decribes himself as “a poor-ass reservation kid living with his poor-ass family on the poor-ass Spokane Indian Reservation” (Alexie, 2009, p.7) and concludes that no one would miss him if he were gone because he is “a zero on the rez” (Alexie, 2009, p. 16). Arnold perceives himself within his relations with his family and the reservation, thus his self-esteem is directly tied to his place within the two groups. However near the end of the book, Arnold cries for his “fellow tribal members” future in the reservation (Alexie, 2009, p. 216) and acknowledges that he “was the only one who was brave and crazy enough to leave the rez…. The only one with enough arrogance” (Alexie, 2009, p. 217). Although part of his self image is still tied to his tribe, Arnold sees himself as independent from them. He has a sense of who he is from his choice to leave the reservation and the qualities that allowed him to do so. The experiences Arnold encountered along the way such as exclusion, individuals with highly independent self-construals, and the deaths of his led to changes in his self-concept.
Another topic of importance to the book is collective identity. Matsumoto and Juang (2013) describe identity as “the way individuals understand themselves and are recognized,” while collective identity is more specifically about people’s association with “social...